Saving sashimi

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The oily red flesh of southern bluefin tuna makes the finest sashimi on the planet. Long prized in Japan for its taste and texture, the growing worldwide palate for this fish may have helped speed its decline. It is estimated that wild stocks of bluefin are just 10 percent of what they were in the 1960s.

All is not lost, however. A former French Legionnaire, seafood magnate, and bold entrepreneur has come to the rescue. Hagen Stehr of South Australia plans to farm southern bluefin tuna, which has never been done successfully, to relieve pressure on wild stocks and increase his profits by avoiding the quotas imposed on wild tuna.

Hagen has fished for many years along the tuna’s traditional migration route from Indonesia to the waters of southern Australia. As stocks dwindled, the catch was limited, and a quota system was introduced to distribute the fish among the operators. With an eye on the bottom line, fishers began to net their quota of tuna and tow it into the harbor, where the fish resided in outdoor pens and feasted on a diet of anchovies for several months. By the time they went to market, their weight had doubled and profits surged.

Taking a new approach, Stehr is attempting to raise farm-bred tuna that do not have quota restrictions. He has meticulously replicated the tuna’s natural environment indoors. At his research and development firm, Clean Seas, select breeding stock weighing more than 350 pounds each endlessly circle a huge tank where the light, temperature, and currents simulate the changes they would normally encounter as they swim north to their spawning grounds. So far, the fish have spawned three times, believing they have made the journey to the warm waters off Indonesia.

As the world population inches toward 7 billion, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says an additional 40 million tons of seafood will be needed in the next 20 years, and most of it will come from aquaculture. Assuming Stehr can successfully raise his small fish to adulthood, this risky enterprise could reap rich rewards going forward.

For more information visit www.stehrgroup.net.

Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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